When I was in high school, I always had an assignment book. Well at the beginning of the year I’d have an assignment book, anyway. The assignment book was like a planner except that, appropriately enough, it catered towards my needs as a student. You could look at a day, a week, a month. Heck, you could look at a year at a glance if you really wanted to.
Of course, there was always a problem with my assignment book. I never took the time to sit down and write what I had to do. “By the time you write down everything you have coming up, you could already be halfway done doing the first thing,” I reasoned. By about the middle of November, my poor, forlorn assignment book would be buried at the bottom of my bookbag, its cover curled and torn beyond recognition.
I think back on those days a lot. I spent a lot of time “freaking out” in high school because I always felt I was being overbooked (ha ha, what high schoolers don’t know). I was on the schools’ speech team, I had volunteer hours to do for The National Honors Society, I had homework in every class every day, and I was fastidious about doing all of my reading because I was consciously trying to graduate in the top ten. I remained pretty organized and I got the job done, but I sometimes wonder how much better my quality of life might have been if I had taken the time to fill in that beautiful assignment book with the faux leather cover.
“I don’t have time to plan”
A lot of people and companies today are just the way I was when I was in high school. I don’t mean hormonally (although…), but a lot of us just feel like we have too much going on. We freak out. If someone tells us to sit down, calm down, and write it all down, we tend to flip out, for lack of a better phrase. But factually, at least when it comes to marketing, planning is the single best way not only to make your quality of life better, but also to improve each and every one of your marketing initiatives.
“I should really know the answer to that question”
One thing that we have found as we have helped our clients and prospects plan over the years is that sometimes questions come out of the process that no one had planned on. We can’t really predict what these questions will be or where they might come from. Sometimes questions about a company’s corporate identity pop up as we look at their website. Sometimes questions about a company’s long-term sales goals come up when we look at their existing sales methodologies. This can be an arduous journey, especially when loud tick tock of the clock can be heard all of the time. But there’s one thing I can tell you. Those questions, if they exist, will pop up at some point, whether you plan or not. We tend to think it’s better to have a chance to answer the questions when there isn’t a whole lot on the line immediately. The best answers come when there’s time for thought and no stress from a problem or time shortages.
“Plan for the worst, hope for the best” is not a marketing adage
There was a question on LinkedIn today about how to drive more readers to a company e-newsletter. I see questions like this a lot on the various sites where I chat with other people. “How can I promote the fact that we just launched a new product?” “How can I promote my Facebook page?”
These questions are symptoms. They are not symptoms of a disease. Perhaps they are not even symptoms of a problem within your company. What they are, though, are symptoms of a lack of planning.
Very few things in the marketing world happen accidentally. Sometimes you can meet the right person at the right time. Sometimes you can write something that just happens to hit someone influential in the right way. But generally, marketing success is the result of conniving, sweat on the brow planning. Why is that? A marketing plan means that you don’t just plan to have an e-newsletter. You plan to have promotions within your e-newsletter to attract interest. You plan to invite one reader a month to write a guest story. You plan to share your e-newsletter via your Facebook page and your blog. In other words, for every marketing action that you can think of, your plan should ride the ripples out to the edge of the pond to see all of the ways that single action could be integrated with other actions, with a follow-up plan, and with anything else you might need.
It’s true that there are things you can’t plan for. Maybe the idea for a new product or service comes up that wasn’t involved in your initial plan. That’s okay. A marketing plan doesn’t have to be locked down to the letter. You don’t have to adhere strictly to what you write up. But the structure for planning should be something you always plan on. Avoid the rush tactic of promoting your new product willy nilly. Sit down and make a plan just on how to promote that product. You will find that doing so pays dividends.
What fills the planning hole?
Of course, it’s possible to survive just fine without a plan. The “seat of the pants” crowd has a loyal membership, and it’s because it’s fast and most of the time, maybe, it works. But here’s the problem with the “seat of the pants” approach and marketing. Without a plan, and with all of the pressures that we exist under every day, it’s really, really easy to fall into traps that result in huge mistakes or messes. Imagine a new toy being rushed to the market in time for the holidays without appropriate testing. The results could be tragic! Well, the same holds true for rushing your marketing initiatives to the industry. Maybe you pick a product name that has already been trademarked. Maybe you send out an ad or a news release that has a typo in it (for example, maybe the name of the product or the company name is spelled wrong). A marketing plan can serve as a safety net. You can see when things are coming. You can glance ahead, just like I could have done in my assignment notebook. I could have avoided disastrous meltdowns (or at least the ones caused by the amount of work and persecution I felt I was experiencing). You can avoid dangerous situations like trying to create a slogan in 12 hours.
That sounds like a lot of work
Planning is a lot of work. It takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of massaging, and just like the potter with the potting wheel, sometimes you have to just mush the whole thing and start over again. Then again, sometimes you can end up with a campaign that is cohesive, sensible, fully thought through, and effective. Is that a fair trade? We tend to think it’s a pretty good investment of some elbow grease at Clayman Advertising. I’d love to hear what you think.
1st Image by Hilde Vanstraelen. http://www.sxc.hu/profile/biewoef
2nd Image by sanja gjenero. http://www.sxc.hu/profile/lusi